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GPLv3 and Software as a Service

by Brett Smith Contributions Published on Mar 29, 2007 09:39 PM

The blogosphere has started buzzing with the suggestion that GPLv3 isn't going to address the so-called "ASP loophole," where users interact with software over a network but never see source. I think Bryan Richard started the ball rolling.

In the second draft, this was addressed in section 7(b)4, which would've allowed licensors to optionally add a requirement to their code so that source would remain available even when the software was running as a network service. The language we proposed got the job done, but it was not an elegant solution. Proponents of the requirement—and I include myself among them—supported the goal but were unsatisfied with the execution. The wording in draft two left open a lot of bothersome questions. For example, it required that you maintain certain source delivery mechanisms that were in the code. But what if you modified the code to talk over a different protocol? Something like DNS that doesn't really support delivering files? I'm not sure it's always a horrible thing to dictate technology to accomplish your policy, but it's definitely less than ideal, and 7(b)4 was a shining example of it. Even worse, the clause had the potential to make GPLv3 compatible with onerous licenses, with obnoxious terms akin to the BSD advertising clause.

So we've come up with a better solution. We're going to write a new license, version 2 of the Affero GPL, that solves this problem in a more general way and doesn't dictate technology. GPLv3 is going to be compatible with AGPLv2; you can see the this in section 13 of the latest draft. This provides everyone with much the same benefits that 7(b)4 did: people who want their source to be available over a network will use the Affero GPL—not much different than using an optional requirement—and will still be able to build on top of all the GPLed code that's out there. And then this approach has additional advantages over 7(b)4: it'll be less of a technology hack, and people who want to avoid code with this requirement can just blacklist the AGPL, and not have to worry about a list of additional requirements.

We're going to draft AGPLv2 just as publicly as our other licenses. Initial language is circulating among the first stakeholders, and once we have something ready to publish, we will. For those of you who have been writing about this, I think you're really going to like what you see. Just please have a little more patience.

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